Five Keys: USF vs. Syracuse

Al Messerschmidt

After five straight defeats, the Bulls return to Raymond James Stadium after nearly a month as they try to salvage something from this season.

Well, here we are USF fans, a five-game losing streak. The Bulls have lost so many close games over the past month, from bad defense, poor clock management, and less than desirable coaching, the team has stunk it up. However, there is still something to play for and there are still games to play on the schedule. As the calendar turns towards November, the Bulls will be hoping the return to Raymond James will inspire them a bit. Here are some of the biggest areas they need to focus on in order to stand a chance in this game.

1. Pressure Ryan Nassib. Nassib is throwing for over 300 yards a game and with the USF secondary shaky at best, the key to stopping the Syracuse offense will be getting to Nassib before he can pick the secondary apart. Ryne Giddins, Tevin Mims, Cory Grissom, Todd Chandler, Elkino Watson, and others have to get pressure on Nassib, force him to move his feet, and cause him to throw off target. If the Bulls can't force a pass rush and get Nassib to move, he will sit back there and pick the secondary apart.

2. Protect B.J. Daniels. Left guard Mark Popek is doubtful for the game and redshirt freshman Brynjar Gudmundsson will be taking his spot on the offensive line, leaving another question mark on the line that B.J. Daniels will have to deal with on Saturday. The front five have been tough to watch most of the year, failing to protect Daniels and sometimes not even giving him time to set his feet. With talented pass rushes such as Bromley, Goggins, and Sharpe, the offensive line needs to be at their best to protect Daniels and allow him to read the Syracuse defense and get the ball out.

3. Dictate the tempo of the game. I sound like a broken record talking about the Syracuse tempo and the speed the pace they run on offense, but it is very important. If the Bulls fail to get pressure like I mentioned above, it will allow the Orange to get into rhythm, hit big plays, and continue to drive down the field. Meanwhile, the Bulls won't be able to substitute on defense, and that will play right into the hands of Nassib and the Syracuse offense. USF needs to come out, make a few stops, and send a message that they will not allow the Orange to drive on them and control the clock.

4. Get off the field on third down. The defense has been tough to watch all season. Few turnovers (no interceptions), no pressure, and allowing opponents to consistently drive down the field have all been commonplace with this team. In order for the Bulls to stand a chance in this game, they have to get off the field on third down. We have seen opponents convert third down over and over, keeping the defense on the field and leading to more headaches and heartaches. Defensive coordinator Chris Cosh has to dial up something, make some kind of adjustment, and get the players in the right spot to stop drives. If they continue to sit back and allow the short gains, it will be another headache-filled night.

5. Pride. Five straight losses, it hurts to say that. 11 out of the last 12 Big East games have been defeats, stings even more. Haven't beaten a BCS-conference team at home since 2010, hurts even more. The point is, the team has struggled, and now, with the energy of homecoming in the air, the team needs to play for its pride. Bowl chances are slim, conference chances not even on the radar, but at this stage for this group they need to dig deep and play for their own pride. They need to hustle, keep their heads in the game, and finish every play. Now is not the time to hide their heads in the sand -- it's time to step up and show the season is not completely lost and the games down the stretch will be battles.

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